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Keeper League Would You Rather: Bryce Harper or Jason Heyward?

Posted By Howard Bender On January 17, 2013 @ 11:15 am In Keeper Strategy,Outfielders | 47 Comments

Right around this time of year I start to get that anticipatory giddiness that a six-year old gets in December when he starts counting down the days to Christmas. February 12 is the first day pitchers and catchers are allowed to report for Spring Training 2013 — just 27 days away. That’s less than a month. Calm, cool and collected on the outside; I’m doing back-flips on the inside. You feeling it too?  I thought so. This is our Christmas.

Spring training will start, the World Baseball Classic will whet our appetites, and then on March 31, the Rangers and Astros take the field and we’re off and running. And as if that’s not exciting enough, we still have our version of Christmas presents to unwrap. And by that I mean Draft Day. There’s really nothing better than getting a roster full of shiny new toys and then lining them up next to those of your friends and see who made out the best.

But like that six-year old, I simply can’t contain my enthusiasm. I need to know what I’m getting and I need to know now. I don’t need to know everything, but I need to know little something to tide me over; to keep me from going totally off-the-wall. And that’s why I play in keeper leagues. I like walking into the draft with a little somethin’ somethin’ in my pocket. It’s like a warm blanket and a hot cup of cocoa on a cold, rainy day.

The only problem I have is making those tough decisions of who on my roster stays and who heads back into the player pool. Which, of course, brings us to yet another edition of Keeper League Would You Rather. So put on those baseball thinking caps of yours and let’s get to it because this one is a tough one.

Assuming the cost of protecting them is exactly the same, would you rather keep Bryce Harper or  Jason Heyward?

Most people will immediately default to Harper because of the hype and the fact that he’s almost three years younger, but in comparing the two players, the answer really isn’t so simple. Take a look at Bill James’ projections for each of them in 2013:

PA HR AVG RBI R SB
Bryce Harper 659 24 0.272 65 105 20
Jason Heyward 641 26 0.272 82 92 20

If James has it right, then you’re looking at close to even production here. Is Harper’s age the tiebreaker? True, he won’t turn 21 until October, but it’s not like Heyward is some old geezer here. He’s only 23-years old, set to turn 24 at the end of August. If we are to believe that position players reach their physical prime at age 26 or 27, wouldn’t you prefer the more immediate impact? After all, it’s very rare that you keep a player for his entire career. Things happen — injuries occur, trades are made, life throws you all sorts of curveballs even in the fantasy world. You always want to win now even if you are building for the future and while both offer you the latter, does Heyward offer you a better chance at the former?

People talk about Harper’s potential ceiling; how you can tell just by the sound of the bat hitting the ball that he’s got 35-40 home run power lurking in there. There is little doubt that his skill set is off the charts. But think back to 2010 and remember that they were saying similar things about Heyward. Heck, I even heard that someone once made the comparison to Ted Williams. But it has taken Heyward a couple of seasons to get himself to where he is at right now. He dealt with the pressure of coming in as a 20-year old, he battled injuries, and now he looks primed for a breakout. Harper has started on the same path and while we can’t say that he’s going to get hurt, he still has his own dues to pay and growing pains to get through.

Obviously you can tell that in this debate, I am leaning towards Heyward. Both were considered stud prospects and the best of their time. Both have great power with rock solid speed blended in. Both are young enough to want keep for years to come. But Heyward has some valuable experience under his belt and appears much closer to reaching his peak. If I’m looking at my team in five-year increments, I want the guy who will be at his peak in that time frame. Watching a player grow into it is obviously an exciting ride, but I’m looking for more immediate gratification in my fantasy league. Maybe I’m going against the grain here, but I think Heyward gives me the better chance right now.


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